Continued from Part 1.

And of course, there are things that go wrong. There are lots of reasons in which to say that our society isn't doing a very good job of maintaining the highway system.  Highway engineer folks have given the road system in the United States a grade of D because it's not being maintained. The taxes that we pay through fuel taxes to maintain the highway system are inadequate and the roads are slowly deteriorating. So it isn't just that all this makes everything great. We also collectively fail to do what we should do. And you can think about ways to improve that.

So the question is—can we start working within the limits of the highway system metaphor and adapt these ideas to the conflict system. And that's one of the big things that we want to talk about with the MOOS project as it continues.

So one approach is an idea that goes back quite a ways—that’s conflict mapping. Paul Wehr may have been the first to come up with the idea of conflict mapping in the 1980s. The idea of conflict assessment goes back even longer than that. But one of the things that we've been exploring, and we're still at the early stages of figuring out how to do it, is to use advanced computer graphic techniques to map conflicts in ways that make what's happening- things that are going wrong, things that could be improved -a lot more visible.

And it's certainly possible to start to create something like that. It's a bit like a Google map. It could even be crowdsourced, much like the Google map, that would give people a much clearer idea of what's happening in the conflict system and how we might be able to improve it. So, and then you can ask if are there analogs to the little red dots on Google Traffic maps that say there's a problem. And we could certainly build a system that highlights conflict traps. And the thing about traps is once you see them, everybody has an interest in avoiding them.

So we could, for instance, build a system that highlights the actions of divide-and-conquer actors who are cynically trying to manipulate and exacerbate conflict for selfish political purposes. We can highlight misunderstandings, escalation and polarization dynamics, backlash, where people are rebelling against getting forced to do things they don't want to do, disrespect and dehumanization, propaganda, and so on. We can look for the posterity trap, where we solve current problems by pushing the costs off on future generations. And things like the double-cross trap. You can get a really long list of these traps.

But there are a lot of people who have an interest and say, “hey, I'm about to fall into this trap! And if I do, it's really going to hurt.” And they're going to be interested in ways to avoid doing that. So we could try to build such a system.

We can also try to sort of instill a sense in which everybody has a role to play to improve the conflict system. So instead of adopting a highway, we want people to adopt a conflict problem. And this implies a certain amount of specialization. You don't say I'm going to clean up the whole highway system. You say I'm going to work on this part. Somebody else work on other parts. So if we could get everybody to work on a little part of it, but different little parts, so there's a fair amount of coverage of the overall thing, that would be a heck of a step forward.

There's also a sense in which we can try to get people to just teach and develop do-it-yourself conflict skills. There already is a big program in conflict resolution and education. These folks are trying to bring together and disseminate these kinds of materials at the K-12 level, and at the college level. There are an enormous number of programs out there that try to help people develop more constructive conflict-handling skills. Those could all be improved and extended.

There's also an analog to the highway good Samaritans where you have-- at least one way of conceptualizing this-- is Bill Ury's third siders. Ury has identified 10 roles that good Samaritans trying to help a community torn by conflict can play to help contain, resolve, and prevent really destructive conflicts. And there are a lot of different variations of that.

There are, of course, also roles for professional contributors. Folks that actually are paid to pursue conflict roles. You can get some of those associated with the Alliance for Peacebuilding or the Association for Conflict Resolution, and many other organizations.

So the question is, how can we best build on this Google Traffic metaphor, assuming it makes sense to try to build on it. What other social learning processes are there, and maybe in sectors other than highways, that basically are ways in which the society as a whole is learning how to handle issues more effectively and constructively that we could borrow and apply to the conflict problem? I think all of this is a key to thinking at the very, very large scale that the intractable conflict problem demands.

Guy Burgess is a Founder and Co-Director of the University of Colorado Conflict Information Consortium. He holds a Ph.D. in Sociology and has been working in the conflict resolution field, as a scholar and a practitioner, since 1979. His primary interests involve the study and management of intractable conflicts, public policy dispute resolution, and the dissemination of conflict resolution knowledge over the Internet. He is one of the primary authors and creators of the Online Training Program on Intractable Conflicts, and is the Co-Director of CRInfo -- the Conflict Resolution Information Source. Dr. Burgess has edited and authored a number of books and articles, the most recent being The Encyclopedia of Conflict Resolution (with Heidi Burgess, ABC-Clio 1999).